Army Nursing: Educational and Professional Opportunities
For more than 200 years, the U.S. Army Medical Department (AMEDD) has served and protected U.S. forces and their families, worked to save the lives of civilians and improved health-care systems across the globe. In today’s Army, the more than 11,000 men and women of the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) are the backbone of one of the biggest health-care networks in the world, seeing to the health of our troops across all stages of care. As one of the fastest-growing fields in health care, nursing continues to be a highly sought- after and highly rewarding career, both in the Army and civilian sectors. Nurses today are challenged with learning increasingly complex technology and practices in a fastpaced and competitive environment while still focusing on the needs of the patient.
To attract and retain this vital group of health-care professionals, the ANC provides nurses like Capt. Pauline Potter, assistant head nurse on one of the medical surgical wards at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, with a number of educational, training and financial opportunities to care for patients in a variety of settings and to continue to develop professionally.
Capt. Potter earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wis., through an ROTC scholarship. Though she did not come from a military family and initially considered the Army primarily as a way to pay for college, Capt. Potter fell in love with the Army and the experiences she’s been able to have as an active duty ANC officer.
After graduation and her first job in an orthopedic ward, Capt. Potter deployed to Bosnia, where she worked in an emergency room. From there, she moved to West Point, N.Y., where she became the head nurse of the Mologne Cadet Health Clinic. Caring for the 4,000 cadets at the clinic was much like working in a family practice clinic, says Capt. Potter: “We provided everything from immunizations to X-rays.”
Compared to their civilian counterparts, Army nurses often have greater autonomy and are able to practice nursing in a more collaborative team environment. Their professional judgment is the driving force behind providing full spectrum patient care, including identifying and organizing multidisciplinary resources for patients and their families to help them with inpatient, outpatient and home care.
This opportunity to supervise and make decisions about day-to- day patient care builds valuable leadership and management skills.
It was at Capt. Potter’s next position, as the director of the Health Promotion Center, a public health center at Fort Sam Houston, that she became more interested in research. Eventually she deployed to Iraq as part of the deployed combat casualty research team (DC^sup 2^RT). The six-person EXZ^sup 2^RT was in country for six months to study combat injuries. As the primary data collectors, the team was involved in hands-on research in emergency rooms. Its mission was to identify medical practices that best saved soldiers’ lives. The team tracked incoming patients to study the effects of different kinds of combat care, including the types of tourniquets used and the effects of different blood products.
“I’ve pursued such an interesting range of practices and settings- emergency room nursing, practicing in an outpatient clinic, public- health nursing and research,” says Capt. Potter. “When I compare myself to another nurse my age who isn’t in the Army, he or she would not have been able to do all of this. There just aren’t the same opportunities in civilian nursing.”
Through clinical specialization courses and advanced degree programs, the Army Nurse Corps helps its officers build their nursing skills and grow their careers. “The Army provides you so many opportunities. At every major turning point, you can steer your career where you want it to go. I’ve taken courses in head nurse leadership development, tactical combat medical care, combat casualty care and more,” says Capt. Potter.
The ANC also offers professional advancement opportunities, such as master’s or doctoral nursing degree programs in partnership with top U.S. universities. For example, Army nurses can pursue advanced practice nursing roles such as nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners and nurse midwives.
Both active and Reserve nurses receive a comprehensive benefits package that includes a competitive salary and financial incentives such as nursing school loan repayment and bonuses, as well as paid continuing education and clinical specialization. Active duty nurses can qualify to receive a signing bonus of $20,000 to $30,000 with a three- to fouryear contract or take advantage of the loan repayment program to receive more than $114,000 to pay back educational loans. Army Reserve nurses have access to similar nursing school loan repayment benefits and bonuses and opportunities for paid specialized training, and they can also qualify for up to $50,000 in educational loan repayments.
In addition to attracting nurses who have already earned their BSN in the civilian world, the Army Nurse Corps also offers educational benefits for enlisted personnel seeking a career in nursing under the AMEDD enlisted commissioning program (AECP). AECP affords eligible enlisted active duty, Reserve or National Guard soldiers the opportunity to complete an undergraduate or master’s degree in nursing and become commissioned as an ANC officer. Participants receive pay and allowances at their current enlisted rank while attending school full-time. The program accepts approximately 100 applicants each year, provides pay and benefits to participants for up to 24 consecutive months of enrollment and funds academic costs up to $9,000 per academic year.
In addition to the educational benefits, Capt. Potter says the most rewarding aspect of her job is caring for others: “The happiest moments I’ve had have been watching patients get well and leave the hospital. When I cared for soldiers in Iraq and for the children or civilians who were hurt, I knew that was exactly where I was supposed to be.”
Though there are many career paths available to nurses today, some find that the Army Nurse Corps can offer the education, benefits and lifestyle they need to build their future and the practical training and hands-on experience beyond what is typically available to their civilian peers.
Capt. Pauline Potter cares for an injured Iraqi child in Baghdad.
Capt. Lonnie R. Buatte, a critical care nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at 325th Combat Support Hospital, CampAIAsad, Iraq, cares for an Iraqi boy who was injured by mortar fire.
Army Capt. Jody Brown looks for medication for a patient at a combined medical effort in Batta village, northwest of Baghdad. Capt. Brown is a registered nurse with Company C, 225th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad.
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